I used Pinterest to plan a trip with my mom to Appenzell, Switzerland and it nearly gave her a heart attack. Thanks to the high-altitude Pinterest fail, we have a story few others will ever have.
In an effort to make this mom-and-daughter trip to France and Switzerland a dream come true, I bugged my mom for her wish list throughout the entire planning process. She would always reply by saying she would love whatever we did. So when she sent me a picture on Pinterest and said, “this looks really cool.” I jumped on it.
It did look really cool. I found Berggasthaus Aescher-Wildkirchli online and contacted them. They didn’t have online booking, so I emailed them my credit card information after a brief glance at TripAdvisor just to make sure they were legit.
A couple of months later, My mom and I were on a train to the Appenzell region in Switzerland. After nearly two hours of train travel from Zurich, we arrive in the middle of nowhere and stood looking at a cable car that cost an arm and a leg to use. By now, I’d had enough time to start worrying — what if this place wasn’t really there…? We rode the cable car straight up the mountainside to find out.
We arrived at the top, nobody in sight except one young man cleaning the cable car station. We walked outside to see a sign with a bunch of words, none of which looked like the name of our hostel. We got the man and pointed to our reservation confirmation paper, asking which way to go. He pointed us down a sliver of trail on the mountain.
We began our hike down a literal mountain trail, mom’s suitcase taking a beating from the steep incline and loose rocky trail.
After a few minutes of this, the path turned sharply to the right, into a cave, with no other way to go.
The cave was dimly lit, water dripping off the top of the cave muddied the path. At the end of it, we came to an old hermit hut (inhabited between the 17th and 19th centuries). As we stopped at a bench there for a moment, three tourists wandered by and asked us where the trail went.
Little did we know they would be the only English-speakers we would see for the next two days.
When you don’t know where you’re going, the journey seems to take forever. It was starting to get dark, and I thought we just might die on the mountain that night.
I told my exhausted mother to sit at the hut with our bags while I went on to look for the hostel. Luckily, after passing a wooden bridge and rounding the corner, I saw it and went back for mom.
We arrived moments later, walking toward the dozens of people at the restaurant outside of our hostel (we hadn’t made dinner reservations, not realizing the place was completely isolated). Everyone stopped eating dinner and turned to look at us. They stared silently as we walked up.
Having no idea who to talk to or where to go, with no reception desk and no knowledge of the language, we walked inside. The entry went directly into the kitchen. I wanted to step back out and see if there was another door, but I didn’t dare facing the stares of the crowd again.
“Hello,” I spoke up with my last shreds of confidence and energy.
Luckily, a woman in the kitchen greeted us in broken English and showed us to our room — our loft.
It was up a ladder, behind a swinging wood panel. The woman turned to my mom and asked if she would be okay with the ladder. Mom nearly laughed — I knew what she was thinking: if she could manage that hike, she could manage a ladder to the heavens.
We asked for wi-fi: none. We asked for showers: none — just a “washroom” with a big sink.
When we asked about dinner, we finally got a yes. With a few less stares, we went out to dinner and looked over the menu — thankfully semi-translated.
By this time, I was wondering what I had dragged my mother into. I was worried she hated it. I was worried we had done the dumbest thing ever. I wanted to find another place to stay and leave ASAP — but I didn’t have any wi-fi to book another place. I had no idea what to think, but I felt responsible for whatever we had done.
THAT NIGHT, WE SLEPT ON THE SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN.
One wall of our hostel was a MOUNTAIN. And I couldn’t decide if that was a win or fail. I had a tiny bit of phone signal though, and texted my husband about it. According to him, it was entirely a win.
The next morning, we ate a Swiss breakfast on the insanely beautiful mountain. With nothing else to do, we hiked back to the cable car station and watched hang gliders jump from the cliff there.
By the cable car station there were two simples hotels with restaurants in them as well. We ate at one after some hiking and then watched a few more hang gliders.
That evening, I called my husband to talk about the bizarre experience, which he compared to Batman’s epic pilgrimage to Ra’s Al Ghul’s temple in Bhutan. I couldn’t really disagree.
LUCKILY, MY MOM IS EPIC AND BATMAN-LIKE.
We ate dinner at our hostel’s restaurant again, enjoying the slow pace and people watching. Most everyone who passed through were serious hikers. They all had their boots, hiking poles, etc. No wonder they ogled at us, two women with suitcases and skirts, when we arrived. It felt like we invaded a private Swiss enclave of hikers.
That night we went to bed sweaty, no showers to clean us off. A group of young mountain-rangers sang rowdy drinking songs outside as we dozed off.
The real adventure began the next morning, after breakfast. The hike uphill, back to the cable car, WITH our luggage.
We were already hot before we reached the cave. After enjoying the cool temperatures of the cave, we got to the real challenge. The steep, long incline up a thin, rocky trail to the cable car. We took turns with my backpack (easier to climb with) and mom’s suitcase.
Mom bravely took her suitcase as we started up the thin trail. Lugging it like a deadweight, we stopped every few steps to catch our breath. Mom had recently informed me of a slight heart flutter, and now I could hear her breathing heavily from several feet away. I told her to stop, convincing her that with my youth, I could take my backpack up to the top and return for her suitcase.
I took my backpack up to the top as quickly as I could. By that time, I thought my right lung had collapsed. But my mom was still on the mountainside. I turned around to see her halfway to me with her suitcase. I pretended to be disappointed that she had done it herself, but I know she could see the relief on my face as I wheezed and carried her suitcase for the last few steps.
We finally made it onto the cable car, down the mountain, and away from Appenzell, leaving with mixed feelings. We laughed, knowing it was an amazing, truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. We had loved the small ponies stepping through the restaurant, the bunnies on the rocks, and the sheep bells ringing constantly in the distance. But we also thought we might need a hospital bed.
Looking back at my pictures, it certainly doesn’t look like a Pinterest fail. It looks just like the pin.
There were just a few details missing. But that’s how every trip is, isn’t it? No photo can capture the depth of mountain views, nor the hike it took to get there. That’s why looking at a picture isn’t enough for a traveler — we know there’s so much more to a place. My Wanderlust Pinterest board is filling up now not with dreams but with memories.